I’ve always been drawn to the question of what happens when we die. Many years ago, as a young hospital doctor, I read Dr. Moody’s Life After Life. It really opened my eyes to the vast realms of awareness beyond our everyday reality and started me on a journey of discovery.
Then, one February day thirty years later, I was suddenly facing death myself. My previously undiagnosed brain tumor had hemorrhaged. I went from living my regular life working as a doctor and hypnotherapist, into Emergency and straight to Intensive Care. After having deep and intrusive surgery on my brainstem, where all the basic functions of life are coordinated, I had profound experiences of realms beyond the ordinary, beyond my everyday self, beyond life and death, (See my Death Isn’t Real Neither is Life blog).
In the months that followed, that vaster awareness persisted for much of the time but then, as I worked hard at rehabilitating my balance, speech, vision, swallowing and walking, I became more strongly identified again with my body, my personality and my agenda – with my personal self getting better and staying alive. And that strong identification brought back with it the fear of death again.
I knew from my experiences in ICU with wisdom beings, that I’d be fine, on a deep level, whether I lived or died. But when it came time for the 3-monthly brain scans to see if the tumor was back, my human need to survive had quite a fearful grip. It’s one thing to know that pure love/awareness “waits” but quite another to be attached to staying alive and well. I wanted to dissolve the veil between the two. On one side death isn’t true, on the other side, count me out!
It’s no wonder that we have conjured up figures like the grim reaper to symbolize death, this thing that would cut us down against our wishes. Our fear of death can be many things – the fear of the unknown, annihilation – no “I” projected through the future, the loss of everything we value, a complete loss of control and the fear we might have for those we leave behind, especially children. As well as the fear of death itself we might also fear the dying process – pain, powerlessness, overwhelming experiences and emotions, not being in control, dependency and embarrassment. And for those whose religious views are infused with guilt there can be a desperate hope of eternal happiness if we’re good enough or the dread of punishment for being bad or falling short. The threat of death brings all of our psychological frailties into sharp focus.
But we are not our bodies or our minds. We are pure awareness.
I had already had great success during radiotherapy, dealing with having “cancer in the head”, by doing an amazing transformational process called Feeding Your Demons. (see my Feeding Your Demons blog). It gave me courage and certainty that I could deal with whatever comes. And it gave me a knowing that everything is workable, not always fixable, but definitely workable. Because of this certainty, I didn’t feel like a powerless victim of cancer. I could easily match it and transform the threat. This gave me calm, clarity and confidence, a sense of “no big deal”.
As death was an ongoing possibility and, let’s face it, unavoidable in the long run, I decided to do the FYD process to face death itself, to take the power away from it, transform it. It might seem counterintuitive to go towards death. Sometimes those of us with a life-threatening illness try to reject death as though even thinking about it might give it power. This isn’t being positive. It’s fear. And it’s tiring to keep trying to outrun it. I can totally understand why facing death may not be very appealing but, honestly, it’s worth it. It’s far better to face “the demon” (death) than to live anxiously pretending it can’t see you. It’s scary to turn towards the bad thing but it’s life-changing. There is great power in this and, maybe, you will have a peep through the veil while you’re still alive!
Part of my routine after the brain cancer was to meet death once per month through the demon-feeding process. Through transforming the “big dealness” of death into awareness beyond life and death I was able to be present with what is, ie I might die early but I wasn’t falling into prolonged states of suffering or anxiety about it. I definitely intended to stay alive and be as well as I could be but I was not denying that an early death was entirely possible. Instead I was working with it as a fact and doing my best to walk both paths. I definitely intend to stay but if I lose, I can handle that.
Using the Demon Feeding process I worked with my psyche’s projections of death, the annihilators of Julie, and found a few scary characters. Ticking like a clock, there was a black metallic automaton with a knife approaching me, the inexorable march of time towards death. There was a red-eyed, black-armored man with malicious intent, the ultimate anti-Julie. And there was a huge black cougar, jaws agape that could overpower me and consume me at will. Death is inevitable, it feels malicious because it’s going to kill me and it feels overpowering. Of course.
These split-off parts of my psyche, my inner representations of death, wanted ‘I’, the Julie that desperately wants to persist through time, to be afraid, an easy victim. But when I asked these overpowering figures what they really needed, and I nourished them with all the nectar of power and relaxation that would satisfy them, then they became fluid and dissolved into spaciousness. Powerful wisdom allies arose from that space offering help, comfort, protection, guidance and the means to continue the transformation from the suffering ‘I’ into a state of grace. I experienced this as a sense of profound peace, openness and joy with no fear, no victim, no enemies, no fight, and no death, a state which was profoundly meaningful in itself. This isn’t denial, hope or a crutch. Who wouldn’t want to be able to face death like this?
One of my ‘killers’, the automaton with the knife, was transformed into a luminous black sphere, a symbol of luminous emptiness, and then into a fiercely compassionate black goddess who embodied vivid awareness, awakeness. She demonstrated to me that when she put ‘me’ into a container full of the nectar of deathlessness, the ‘me’ that was hanging on and insisting on prevailing could just relax, trust and let go. As that ‘me’ dissolved into the nectar I felt a strong movement, ease and spaciousness in the back of my head and brain stem. My mind-self-identity had dissolved into deathless awareness with no location, size or point of view and for a while there was simply presence, the breathing, pulsation, ease. The awesome black goddess advised me to keep dissolving this solid sense of ‘I’ into the deathless nectar over and over and she said that this would help me ‘see through’ the seeming solidity of my everyday self and reality, the veil. This is very handy for life, or death, to be able to let go of the tight hanging onto the self and world of ordinary perception, to let go into great ease.
When I was feeding the red-eyed evil guy in the suit of armor, at first he became a red creature with many arms to get me (so many ways to die!) and then with further feeding he became a golden ball of light and vanished. With that, a Buddha appeared above my head, blessing my mind, energy and body with flows of deathless nectar down through the crown of my head, healing and nourishing me on every level. He then wrapped me, and also my son, in a dark blue sphere of protection.
Another time I sat and felt into the fear of the process of dying, the pain, overwhelm, powerlessness and the fear of not being able to breathe. When I projected the sensations out in front of me they appeared as a huge black cougar, jaws agape, looking directly at me. Taken aback, I reminded myself that this was just my mind. It wanted me to be easy prey, paralyzed with fear and it needed power so that it could relax. As I fed it the golden nectar of all the power and relaxation that it needed it transformed and in its place was an enormous relaxed lion, with noble bearing, sitting on a square golden platform, resting immovably on the earth. King of its own domain, the lion could see far and wide and its roar had the quality of penetrating truth. When I asked for its help it said that it would help me be powerfully and fearlessly present with whatever comes, life or death. As it dissolved into golden light then dissolved into me, I felt myself to be that same powerful presence with the roar of truth. Then, having dissolved all of my mind’s creations, I sat in the space of awareness for a long while and emerged unshakably present.
I find the Feeding Your Demons process so deep and profound and full of grace that I would recommend it to anyone facing death (all of us), no matter what your beliefs or religion. You can still intend to live and be well but without the fear and effort of denial. Beware of any superstitious impulses. Some people imagine that if they think of death they’ll magically bring it towards them, like a mental black cat.
It’s obviously confronting so I suggest you do it with a therapist at first till you gain your own confidence that you’re just dealing with your own mind. There’s no value in weirding yourself out.
These days, years later, if I was at the doorway of death again I imagine that I’d be clinging with both hands and feet onto the doorway, “I’m not going!” But eventually I’d let go, probably with a laugh. A few people have said to me, when they heard my story, “You mustn’t be afraid of death now”. I wish that were true. It certainly isn’t such a big deal these days but I’m still a bit of a scaredy cat in the physical world, a cautious type. But I do remember that when push came to shove I was completely fine, trusting, and able to let go with a sense of adventure.
I hope that you can too.
Dr. Julie Kidd is a GP and hypnotherapist in Canberra, Australia. For over forty years, she has been practicing medicine in public hospitals, as a country GP, holistic GP, in heart disease prevention and in medical hypnosis. For the past twenty of those years, she’s been helping people with their minds – breaking the cycles of anxiety, fears, depression, insomnia, addictive behaviors, and weight problems. Just over ten years ago, she was diagnosed with a hemorrhaging malignant brain tumor that required drastic surgery and caused severe disabilities. She has recovered and rebuilt her mind and body so that she now lives a happy, healthy life.
Find out more about Dr. Julie Kidd and sign up to receive an excerpt of her new book, The Mind of Healing, by visiting her website — MindofHealing.com.au